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#18 Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: at #24 UConn

The Golden Eagles head out to Connecticut to try to gain revenge for their home loss against the Huskies earlier this season.

Louisville v Connecticut Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

#18 Marquette Golden Eagles (16-7, 8-4 Big East) at #24 Connecticut Huskies (15-6, 6-4 Big East)

Date: Tuesday, February 8, 2022
Time: 5:30pm Central
Location: XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Justin Lewis, 16.6 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 7.9 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 6.1 apg

Connecticut Stats Leaders

Points: R.J. Cole, 16.4 ppg
Rebounds: Adama Sanogo, 8.1 rpg
Assists: R.J. Cole, 4.5 apg Rankings

Marquette: #23
Connecticut: #18
Game Projection: UConn has a 66% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 74-69.

Last Time Out: In a game that Marquette guard Darryl Morsell missed due to COVID-related reasons, Marquette took a 78-70 loss to UConn in Milwaukee back on December 21, 2021. At the time it was the third straight loss for the Golden Eagles and the second of what would become three straight to start Big East play. Marquette trailed by as many as 11 with 13:10 to play but got it back to a one possession game less than five minutes later and kept it in that ballpark until there were less than three minutes to go. The Huskies pulled away late to land the thing at eight points at the final horn.

Since Last We Met: In the immediate term, things went badly for UConn as they lost their very next game on the road in overtime to Seton Hall. That dropped them to 1-2 in Big East play, which isn’t great. From there, though, they racked up five straight wins against, in order, home against St. John’s in OT, home vs Butler, at Butler, home against Georgetown, and at DePaul. Both games against the Bulldogs were 20-ish point throttling, as was the Georgetown contest, but the DePaul game was a bit closer at 57-50.

But those aren’t the only games they’ve played since seeing Marquette. The last two times out, their first two games of February? Both losses. 59-55 at home to Creighton and 85-74 at Villanova. In short, you could argue that UConn was beating up on the teams that they were supposed to beat up on this season, and given that Marquette’s explosion was still more than a week away when they won that game, UConn still hasn’t beaten a team that they maybe shouldn’t beat in Big East play.

Tempo Free Fun: As you might expect for a game that was decided by just eight points and was actually closer than that towards the end of the game, Marquette and UConn were not that far apart in the first meeting in Milwaukee. 55% vs 53% in effective field goal percentage. 19% vs 17% in turnover rate. 20% vs 21% in offensive rebounding rate.

This return bout might end up being decided by who can find a way to maximize whatever advantages they did have in the first meeting….. or by minimizing whatever deficiencies that they had. With that in mind, I would like to point you towards the fact that 2021 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Darryl Morsell did not play for Marquette back in late December due to COVID protocols. Now, sure, at a glance, “ah, yes, maybe Marquette could have played better defense if their best backcourt defender was available” is a simple and obvious thing to say. But it goes deeper than that.

UConn is the team that held the effective field goal advantage in the first, and they did that mostly speaking by shooting it really well inside the arc. They went just 6-for-20 (30%) from behind the three-point line, but the Huskies converted 22 of their 36 shots (61%!) inside the arc. That’s Marquette’s second worst two-point defensive performance of the season, trailing only the blowout loss to St. Bonaventure.

The makes largely came from two sources: Tyrese Martin and R.J. Cole. Martin with 8-for-12 inside the arc, while Cole went 6-for-7. While Morsell obviously can’t guard two guys at once, he could ostensibly be asked to guard one of these two guys. The 6’5” Morsell could potentially guard either the 6’6” Martin or the 6’1” Cole. I’m not even saying that Morsell could in fact lock either guy completely out of the game because Martin and Cole are great players. But… if Morsell could slow at least one of them down, or maybe swap back and forth depending on which one needs The Cooler at any given moment, that by itself could be enough to tilt this game in Marquette’s favor.

The big picture point to all of this is that this game is a battle between the most efficient defense in the Big East in Marquette and the second most efficient offense in the league in the form of the Huskies. MU is still #1 on defense even with their performance against Connecticut on the books because they’ve been outstanding with Morsell in the lineup.

However, most things have some kind of weakness, and for Marquette, that’s rebounding. The Golden Eagles are #9 in the league in defensive rebounding rate which is not good. It’s made even worse by the Huskies ranking #1 in the conference in offensive rebounding rate. Led by Adama Sanogo and his #61 national rank, UConn is pulling in nearly 37% of their misses in league action this season. No matter how well you’re shooting the ball, getting that many second chances is going to make you look awfully efficient at putting the ball in the basket every time down the floor. The good news in this department is that Marquette had one of their best defensive rebounding nights of the season against the Huskies the first time around. If whatever helped them get there is something that can be replicated by way of effort or scheme, then it’s definitely possible that they can do it again.

Marquette has been the best shooting offense in the Big East in league play this season, mostly powered by being the most accurate three-point shooting team in the league. That’s good news for MU in this one, as UConn sits at #9 in the Big East in three-point shooting percentage defense. Now, that is generally speaking more a function of luck than anything else, but it’s worth noting that UConn is #1 in the Big East in defensive three-point attempt rate. That sounds an awful lot like the Huskies stop you from shooting threes really well…. But when you finally do get a chance to shoot one, it’s because you’ve worked yourself into a wide open shot, and that’s why 37% of them go down against UConn.

Stat Watch: Senior center Kur Kuath has 68 blocks on the season as we enter February. That is the eighth most blocks by any Marquette player in any season in program history. He is two away from tying and three away from passing Theo John’s 70 swats in 2019 for seventh place. When Kuath gets past John — and with seven regular season games to go, it is when, not if — we will be able to say that Kuath has the most blocks by a Marquette player in 25 years.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 8-2 with wins in eight of the last nine.

Connecticut Last 10 Games: 6-4, with losses in each of their last two games.

All-Time Series: Tied up, six wins each.

Current Streak: UConn’s win in the game in Milwaukee earlier this season gave the Huskies their third straight victory over the Golden Eagles.

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